In the November 9, 2009, New Yorker issue, staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert discusses vegetarianism and factory farming in “Flesh of Your Flesh,” in which she reviews Jonathan Safran Foer’s nonfiction book Eating Animals. Kolbert’s review (which reads as effectively as a full-fledged article, as the best reviews always do) struck me in the way the CBC documentary on overfishing (see my last post) did.
In the November 30, 2009, issue, there were four letters to the editor about Kolbert’s piece. They’re worth a read. In particular, the first letter gave me pause:
“[V]egetarian moralism denies an essential fact of living: death … In the end, this is what worries me most about Foer’s arguments—that so many are so ignorant of their food choices, so ignorant of agriculture, and, finally, so ignorant of what awaits us all.”
I agree that it is life-transforming to witness death. And I somewhat see his point: Just because I might refrain from killing animals doesn’t mean that they’ll never die.
Perhaps what matters is one’s attitude toward killing. In pre-industrial times, people saw firsthand the slaughter of livestock for food. By bearing witness to death, perhaps by their own hands, they participated in a natural ecological cycle and could viscerally understand the sacrifice. But how many of us today raise livestock, hunt game, catch fish, or otherwise kill our own meat?
When I see glistening filets at a fish counter, I admit that I react first to their culinary appeal, not to their formerly living, breathing sources. Until I’m more cognizant of the fish rather than the filet, maybe I’d best stick to tofu…